In his book Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares about Education, Peter Senge (2012) talks about mental models and how we need to examine them in order to change. What keeps us from changing, many times, is that we do not think about why we think the way we do; we don’t examine our view of the world. An aspect that really needs reexamining and change is our mental models on assessment. Why do most people think the way they...

EFL teachers that change into a bilingual education environment, often tend to forget that they are not teaching language as the primary goal anymore and that has dramatic implications. The acronym CLIL - Content and Language Integrated Learning - implies that there is much more to it than just language teaching. But what is there besides language? The first big addition is the fact that language is not the ultimate goal anymore: it now plays the role of a tool for students to learn content from other subject areas....

Teaching Young Learners have always interested me and assessing them comes hand in hand with it, obviously, so, for sometime now, I have been researching this area and developed a work on speaking assessment which I would like to share with you. In order not to bore you all with an ginormous reading, I have broken the work into some parts so each month I am sharing a bit. I have already talked about YL characteristics and this month I am talking about types of speaking assessment and their...

Once, when I needed to sign a document, I borrowed a pen from a person very dear to me. I immediately felt something was wrong. My handwriting wasn’t flowing naturally and I wondered what was up with the pen. That’s when I saw a 6-point white star on the top. The owner of the pen must have read some sort of criticism in my eyes, “I know cheap Biros will do the work just as well…” “Or better,” I interjected, glancing at what looked like a forged version...

  I have recently read two posts about grading that touch upon a topic that has long been boggling my mind – the use of grades as punishment and the overall fairness of grading systems. I would like to invite you to check out Monte Syrie’s explanation of why he doesn’t give zeros anymore, or grades below 50% for that matter, and why. Likewise, Andrew Miller explains how grades can harm student learning and how he has refrained from giving zeroes, taking points off for late work, grading practice...

Despite my 15 years of experience with portfolio assessment, its power never ceases to amaze me. I’ve recently conducted a course for public school English teachers in the Federal District and, once again, used portfolio assessment. I have a feeling that some educators might not adopt portfolio assessment because they think it is too complicated; others might think it is not “serious” or “valid” and “reliable” enough, and that anything goes. I’m going to demonstrate how portfolio assessment is simple, valid, and reliable as a classroom assessment tool. More importantly,...

I got a message one of these days which said “No matter what’s happening. CHOOSE TO BE HAPPY. Don’t focus on what’s wrong. Find something positive in your life!” by Joel Osteen, and that made think about being a teacher and assessing students. We have just had our mid-term tests in the school and that’s the time we have formal tests, we correct them, we make a balance of their performance up to now in the semester, give feedback to students and concentrate our efforts on possible remedial work...

It’s election day in Brazil, and polls have featured extensively both in the traditional and social media. Some voters seem to work out their candidates based on the polling results; others doubt them. Either way, I don’t see much questioning of the importance of polling. And that kind of reminds me of classroom tests. (I know, it sounds like a crazy association to be drawing, but bear with me.) Firstly, there is the seeming unavoidability of election polls and educational tests. Death, taxes and tests, one could have said. Indeed tests may be inescapable depending on the school or system we work for. However, we must not forget that a test is but an instrument. Assessment, which is what we should be doing in class, can be carried out in several other ways, such as observation, portfolios and self-assessment questionnaires. In fact the more varied our instruments, the better the chance of capturing a more complete snapshot of our students’ achievements. Secondly, pollings are often treated matter-of-factly. Here in Brazil I frequently hear (and have actually engaged in) the discourse of not voting on the candidate of choice because he or she stands no chance. “What if the polls are wrong?,” the skeptics are right to remind us. Polls are developed and carried out by humans, so there is the chance of human error or hidden agendas. Also, polls sample from the population. Finally, polls draw inferences and generalize from that sample. Exactly like tests. But as teachers we don’t quickly concede to that, now do we? We tend to act as if test results are crystal clear portraits of our students’ proficiency level or learning stage [grade = proficiency/achievement]. We forget the so many bridging inferences we have to draw to get to a test score. To start, the grade depends on our rating/marking criteria and our ability to be consistent when applying them. That brings in one or two middlemen: [grade – criteria – rater – proficiency/achievement]. Plus, students’ performances on the test depend on their interaction with the tasks. Like all of us who have never been asked who are we going to vote for, many aspects of our students’ competence might not be tapped into by the tests we have been issuing them. So [grade – criteria – rater – tasks – performance – proficiency/achievement]. The tasks we choose and items we write also depend on our concepts of language and learning. Because we cannot possibly test everything there is to test, we consciously or unconsciously make judgment calls. With that we show our view on what learning objectives are most important. We’re now up to [grade – criteria – rater – teacher’s views on language learning – tasks – test - performance – proficiency/achievement]. And we could go on and on, adding factors that make those inferential jumps quite clear and show that testing is not so easy as we make it look. And that brings us to the final similarity to boot: the power of polls and tests to influence decisions. Of course that is why we do classroom assessment in the first place: to go over what our students have and have not learned, source out problems in the learning process and try and tackle them. In theory, at least. And when “theory” becomes the operative word, all alarms should go off. It is all too easy to forget about the testing purpose and use grades to label students: “This is the front-runner or high achiever. That is the hopeless underdog.” Or worse still, regardless of how careful we are not to judge, learners themselves take their scores at face value and resign themselves to the role of “winner/loser” in the learning process. And hey, the elections are only over once those ballots are cast and counted.

To my fellow countrypeople, happy and responsible voting.

And to teachers, especially at the end of our school year, happy responsible testing!

How long does it take to learn English? That is probably the one-million question of our era. At a time of fast-food, instant messages, real-time distance interaction, and quick fixes to (almost) everything, learning a language becomes one more item on our “fast-track” bucket list. As a way to attract market and become more competitive, several English language institutes in Brazil tend to sell quick-fix programs in which students are promised to speak English in as fast as one year (maybe less?). But do such programs really offer...